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Target Practice: Who has been Tom Brady’s favorite receiver through 12 games?

12.06.11 at 2:32 pm ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. After 12 games, here’€™s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2011 season:

Kevin Faulk: 6 catches on 6 targets (100 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 3 catches on 4 targets (75 percent)
Wes Welker: 93 catches on 126 targets (74 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 65 catches on 90 targets (72 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 54 catches on 78 targets (69 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 6 catches on 9 targets (67 percent)
Deion Branch: 48 catches on 79 targets (61 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 14 catches on 25 targets (56 percent)
Tiquan Underwood: 1 catche on 2 target (50 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 12 catches on 25 targets (48 percent)
Julian Edelman: 3 catches on 7 targets (43 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
Taylor Price: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

By position:
Tight end: 119 catches on 168 targets (71 percent)
Running back: 29 catches on 44 targets (66 percent)
Wide receiver: 158 catches on 244 targets (65 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Dane Fletcher

Patriots can clinch the AFC East on Sunday

12.06.11 at 1:56 pm ET
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The Patriots could secure a spot in the postseason this weekend. According to the NFL, New England (9-3) can clinch the AFC East with a win against the Redskins combined with a Jets’ (7-5) loss to the Chiefs.

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots penalties through 12 games

12.06.11 at 12:53 pm ET
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Through 12 games this season, the Patriots have been flagged for 70 penalties (24th in the league) and 611 yards (17th). New England had three penalties this week for 20 yards. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots this year, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
Team: eight penalties (12 men on the field, offensive holding, illegal block above the waist, two illegal substitutions, illegal shift, delay of game), 44 yards
OL Logan Mankins: seven penalties (two offensive holding and five false starts), 41 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: five penalties (holding, false start, facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal touch pass), 49 yards
OL Nate Solder: four penalties (three holding and illegal use of hands), 40 yards
S Sergio Brown: four penalties (three defensive pass interference and one unnecessary roughness), 86 yards
OL Matt Light: four penalties (three holding and one false start), 30 yards
OL Brian Waters: three penalties (one holding, two offensive holding), 25 yards
LB Dane Fletcher: two penalties (offensive holding, illegal block above the waist), 17 yards
LB Brandon Spikes: two penalties (holding, encroachment), 11 yards
TE Dan Gronkowski: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
CB Leigh Bodden: two penalties (both defensive holding), 10 yards
WR Wes Welker: two penalties (illegal motion, false start), 10 yards
S Pat Chung: two penalties (unnecessary roughness and facemask), 15 yards
WR Deion Branch: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
WR Chad Ochocinco: two penalties (illegal formation, false start), 9 yards
QB Tom Brady: three penalties (one delay of game and two intentional grounding), 20 yards
DL Vince Wilfork: two penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness), 17 yards
CB Kyle Arrington: one penalty (defensive pass interference), 35 yards
DL Andre Carter: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
LB Rob Ninkovich: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
DL Kyle Love: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
OL Dan Connolly: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
S James Ihedigbo: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
CB Devin McCourty: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
TE Aaron Hernandez: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
OL Sebastian Vollmer: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
K Stephen Gostkowski: one penalty (illegal onsides kick), 5 yards
DE Mark Anderson: one penalty (defensive offsides), 5 yards
RB BenJarvus Green Ellis: one penalty (illegal substitution), 5 yards
OL Donald Thomas: one penalty (false start) 5 yards
CB Phillip Adams: one penalty (illegal contact), 5 yards
LB Gary Guyton: one penalty (encroachment), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: 21 penalties for 161 yards
Tight end: eight penalties for 64 yards
Team: eight penalties for 44 yards
Safety: seven penalties for 123 yards
Wide receiver: six penalties for 29 yards
Cornerback: five penalties for 60 yards
Defensive line: five penalties for 52 yards
Linebacker: five penalties for 48 yards
Quarterback: three penalties for 20 yards
Running back: one penalty for five yards
Kicker: one penalty for five yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
False start: 16
Offensive holding: 16
Defensive pass interference: four
Illegal block above the waist: four
Unnecessary roughness: three
Roughing the passer: three
Illegal substitution: three
Intentional grounding: two
Unsportsmanlike conduct: two
Defensive holding: two
Facemask: two
Encroachment: two
Delay of game: two
Illegal formation: one
Illegal use of hands: one
Illegal motion: one
Twelve men in the huddle: one
Illegal onside kick: one
Defensive offsides: one
Illegal touch pass: one
Illegal shift: one
Illegal contact: one

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

Fantasy Football: Week 14 Waiver Wire

12.06.11 at 10:13 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 14 waiver wire. At this point, if you are still reading, you are a playoff team. Congrats, but there’€™s obviously still work to be done. Here, we have assembled some of the better free agent options that we are seeing in our leagues. We’€™ll be watching more games today and adding names to the list for you folks that play in deeper formats, so feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com if you are looking for even more options. We’€™re also available if you are in need of a second opinion, so please feel free to leave a question in our forums and we’€™ll get you and answer as quickly as possible.

Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings

He’€™s been in this space for a while now, but if he is still around, and you need QB help, go get him. He is a fine young quarterback, and he played a great game last week without Adrian Peterson to lean on. Ponder is a quality backup in all formats.

Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets

It’€™s often less than pretty, but Sanchez is a reasonable option in deeper fantasy leagues and makes for a solid backup if you need one. The Jets are playing better offense these days if only by degrees.

Matt Moore, QB, Dolphins

He has been too solid to ignore and he is using all of the Dolphins offensive weapons and getting the ball out of his owns hands quickly. Moore can be your backup in a deep league if you need him. If you are suffering from injuries at QB, he can even start for you.

Kyle Orton, QB, Chiefs

He’€™s a guy to pay attention to if not a guy to pick up right away. We like him very much in deeper fantasy leagues if his finger injury ends up being minor and if he is starting. Orton, in KC’€™s offense, could be a solid fantasy backup. If Tyler Palko remains in the lineup, then avoid Orton. This situation will play out later in the week.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 14

12.06.11 at 7:23 am ET
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We learned a lot from Week 13. The Packers (1) and 49ers (4) clinched their respective divisions; the Bears (16) season is on life-support; the Bengals (18) can not contend with the elite teams in the league, Tim Tebow and the Broncos (13) are in first place; and Madonna will be performing at halftime during the Super Bowl.

The top six teams in WEEI’s NFL Power Rankings were victorious in Week 13. Teams ranked No.7-11 were a different story. The Falcons (8), Cowboys (10), Lions (12), Raiders (14), and Bears (16) all drop in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Jets (9) and Broncos (13) both climb.

The final four weeks of the NFL season are set to begin. The NFC East race is one of the most intriguing. The Giants (11) and Cowboys (10) will face off twice for the right to represent the division in the postseason. The series matchup starts this week in Dallas. Meanwhile, the race in the AFC for one wildcard spot seems destined to go down to the wire. Teams like the Jets, Raiders, Broncos, Titans, and Bengals are all in the hunt.

1. (1) Packers (12-0) ‘€” The Packers were tied in the fourth quarter for the first time this season. That’s a testament to how dominant the defending Super Bowl champs have been. They’ve now won 18 straight games and will surely wrap up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The road to Indianapolis will go through Green Bay. NFC teams should be scared.

2. (2) Ravens (9-3) ‘€” The Ravens should finish the season 13-3 with games against the Colts, Chargers, Browns and Bengals remaining. It’s very important they take care of business and win out to soldify at least one home game in the playoffs. Ray Rice proved on Sunday that he is the motor that moves the Ravens offense. The elite running back rushed for over 200 yards.

3. (3) Saints (9-3) ‘€” The Saints couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing their best football of the season. It seems impossible to game plan against Drew Brees and the Saints offense. The pass defense has been the biggest cause for concern this season. However, they did a great job shutting down elite receiver Calvin Johnson on Sunday night.

4. (4) 49ers (10-2) ‘€” For the first time since 2002, the 49ers can call themselves division champs. The Niners defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher or a rushing touchdown all season. Running backs such as Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy have all run into the 49ers D with little success. On the other side of the ball, Frank Gore is leading a productive rushing attack. Alex Smith is benefitting from the solid run game more than anyone. The young QB is managing games, not trying to do too much on the field, and has thrown just five interceptions.

5. (5) Steelers (9-3) ‘€” The Steelers are proud owners of the No. 1 defense in the league. The defending AFC champs look primed to make another strong playoff run. Ben Roethlisberger has shown no ill-effects from his thumb injury and James Harrison is starting to amp up the dominant Steelers pass rush.

6. (6) Patriots (9-3) ‘€” Playing 60 minutes of football seems to be challenge for the Patriots. Their fourth-quarter performance was alarming to say the least. The Colts rallied for 21 points in the last 15 minutes of the game. The cupcake schedule continues this week against the Redskins. They won’t play a top caliber quarterback until the playoffs. We won’t find out how good this team actually is until January.

7. (12) Texans (9-3) ‘€” The injuries keep piling up, but the wins keep coming in. The Texans are a resilient, gritty team that refuses to give up, no matter what player goes down with an injury. Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips and the entire Texans coaching staff deserve much praise for what this team has done. The rags to riches story on defense has been one of the best storylines in the NFL this year.

8. (7) Falcons (7-5) ‘€” Dropped passes and a struggling run game is a bad combination. The Falcons had both in Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Star wide-receiver Roddy White leads the league with 11 dropped balls. Michael Turner was unable to get anything going against the Texans. The result is usually not good when the Falcons fail to run the ball effectively.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady

Nick McDonald happy to get his first NFL start under his belt

12.05.11 at 4:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nick McDonald was sore when he woke up Monday morning, but that was a good thing.

‘€œIt feels great though — I haven’€™t felt like this in a while,’€ he said Monday afternoon during a break in the Patriots’€™ locker room. ‘€œIt feels good.’€

In his first NFL start, the center went wire-to-wire in New England‘€™s 31-24 win over Indianapolis. The fourth center the Patriots rolled out there this season, McDonald was signed off the practice squad on Friday to replace Ryan Wendell (calf) and Dan Connolly (groin), both of whom were too hobbled to play on Sunday. (Starter Dan Koppen was placed on injured reserve shortly after the regular-season opener against the Dolphins.)

‘€œNick did really well. He really did. He stepped up big time this week,’€ said fellow offensive lineman Brian Waters. ‘€œHe didn’€™t fully know what would happen, but he stepped up big time.

‘€œHe’€™s done a great job all season of making sure he knows what’€™s going on, and today was just to show that you never know when your time is coming and you have to be prepared. All of young guys … I feel confident in all our young guys being ready to go when their number is called.’€

The 6-foot-4, 316-pounder had been on the practice squad for the bulk of the 2011 season, but was signed to the active roster on Saturday when the Patriots released wide receiver Taylor Price. A 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State, McDonald was signed by the Packers after the 2010 draft, and picked up a ring because he was on the Green Bay roster last season.

Sunday marked his first start with the Patriots.

‘€œIt was nice to see myself out there and see what I have to do to get better,’€ McDonald said after getting a chance to watch film with his teammates. ‘€œI need a lot of improvement, obviously, but I think I stepped up and played well. Obviously, I have two awesome players next to me in (Logan) Mankins and Waters, so that helps.

‘€œIf there’€™s a check, they’€™ll help make some calls. But as a center, you have to know everything. You have to be right on it. If it’€™s not the right call, those guys will definitely tell you,’€ McDonald added. ‘€œThat was key with me. I had to communicate. We worked on that all week to make sure I made the right calls.’€

Quarterback Tom Brady had nothing but positive things to say about the work that McDonald did in the week leading up to the game, and what he was able to accomplish on Sunday against the Colts.

‘€œIt’€™s really a credit to Nick and the work that he put in last week,’€ Brady told WEEI on Monday morning. ‘€œTaking care of the football starts with the center-quarterback exchange. You’€™ve got to execute the most basic play in football, getting the ball from the center to the quarterback. We spent a lot of time last week trying to be able to do that. To be forced into that situation, where basically Nick’€™s been on the practice squad and then to elevate him the roster and have him step in was really a great job by him.’€

Going forward, McDonald faces an uncertain future, as the injury status of both Wendell and Connolly could have a sizable impact on his playing time. For his part, he said Monday he’€™s going to control what he can control.

‘€œI just have to keep working. (Do) what I’€™ve been doing since I got here. I just have to keep working hard in the weight room and film study and know what I’€™m doing and just be prepared,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s great. I’€™m glad that I’€™ve gotten the opportunity. Now, I just have to keep doing it every single week and keep improving.’€

Read More: Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins

Andre Carter on M&M: Patriots’ fourth-quarter performance ‘unacceptable’

12.05.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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Patriots defensive lineman Andre Carter stopped by for a visit with the Mut & Merloni show Monday at Gillette Stadium. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Patriots took a big lead against the Colts Sunday before settling for a 31-24 decision.

“Granted, it was a win, but overall we just didn’t finish strong,” Carter said. “Having 21 unanswered points defensively is just unacceptable.”

The Patriots have turned heads by turning receivers into part-time defensive backs. The latest is Matthew Slater, who helped out on defense Sunday.

“I never experienced anything like this throughout my career,” Carter said. “This is actually a first for me, seeing guys that probably weren’t even on an NFL team end up getting signed and starting, to having guys on special teams, guys on the offensive side of the ball trying to help out or contribute. That’s just something that the coaches have faith in each individual and we just know that whoever’s back there, the front four or the seven-man in general, we’ve got to get there to help the guys out.”

Added Carter: “[Slater] was a professional about it. I’m sure he was out of his comfort zone.”

Next up for the Patriots is Carter’s former team, the Redskins. Carter spent the past five seasons in Washington before signing with the Patriots as a free agent.

“It will be a little bit weird,” he acknowledged. “But like I tell everybody, this is a business. ‘€¦ There’s no revenge or get-back or nothing like that. When I left Washington, we parted on good terms. We shook hands and parted ways. They were headed in a different direction and I knew I was headed in a different direction.”

Added Carter: “I had great years. The chapter is closed. A new chapter begins. I’m a Patriot now. So, you’ve just got to prepare and find a way to put out the best performance.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Matthew Slater,

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